Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins 2010 ARC
IQ "A man full of hatred is like a gun, my son.' Peh says, 'He can be used for only one purpose-to kill.' [...] 'And that's why I'm going to stay like the bamboo, Tu Reh. I want to be used for many purposes. Not just one.'" pg. 148-149 (I know it's the quote on the back cover, but it's there for good reason. It jumped out at me the most).
Chiko is a Burmese boy who wants to be a teacher. His father is a doctor who has instilled in him a love of learning. However his father is seized by the government for treating "a leader of the freedom and democracy movement" (pg. 8) and declared an "enemy of the state." Chiko must now be even more careful read his beloved books in private. Chiko is later forced into the Burmese army. He is a city boy who loves peace and he's completely out of shape. He has a lot to learn, things he can't learn from books. Tu Reh is a Karenni boy who hates all Burmese people after Burmese soldiers destroyed his family's farm. His family had to flew to a refugee camp near Thailand. Tu Reh is ready and willing to fight against the Burmese, to him, they are not human beings.
The Burmese government wants to get rid of ethnic minorities, like the Karenni. They brainwash Burmese citizens into believing all ethnic minorities are evil and therefore must be kicked out of Burma. I've heard of Aung San Suu Kyi but I didn't know much about her and very little about Burma (also known as Myanmar). Yet another eye opening book by Mitali Perkins. She explains the reasoning behind the conflict in a way that all readers can understand without talking down to her young readers. She has created unforgettable characters, thus making sure you will not forget the story and the plight of Burma. I liked both boys, but Chiko was my favorite (why didn't he listen to his mother early on??). This might be because the reader spends more time with Chiko. I'm not exactly sure but I felt like more chapters were devoted to Chiko, which was fine with me. I also fell in love with Tai, I wanted to meet him and receive the honor of being his friend. He's funny, brave and without him Chiko might not have survived. I also wanted to meet and become friends with Ree Meh, a Karenni girl that Tu Reh befriends. She's stubborn and fiercely independent, so she might not want to be friends at first ;) Actually, I wanted to meet all these characters.
When I did my New Crayons post, I mentioned that I feared being depressed by the story because both boys are essentially child soldiers (Burma has the largest number of child soldiers). It's an important story to be told, but I always feel helpless when I read these sort of stories. I was wrong. This story does not ask for pity, instead it merely seeks to inform you. To let you know that there are tragic events happening outside your own little bubble, but people are surviving. It is a story is filled with hope and humor, it's an uplifting tale of friendship and tolerance. In fact, pity on the person who does not read this book and get to meet such wonderful characters and learn about the resilient people. As a bonus, the book includes ways we can help so at least I feel useful. The story never becomes tedious and characters are slowly but surely changing for the better.
Bamboo People is a lot like the bamboo that the people of Burma represent; it has multiple purposes. The story entertains, uplifts and educates. It is a story that will leave an impact on you, whether you realize it or not. I couldn't help but wonder if Chiko and Tu Reh would have been friends, we will never really know due to the fact that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Both boys start off letting their circumstances shape them, but they soon learn to take their future into their own hands. I was transported to Burma and learned not only about the causes of the war and the trials of living there but also the smaller things like the clothing, food and the outward differences between the Burmese and the Karenni (most Karenni are Christians whereas the Burmese are Buddhists). What I really want to know is why did the U.S. only just allow the Karenni to enter the U.S. in 2009? An absolute must read for everyone, it reminds us, once again, that literature teaches tolerance.
Disclosure: Received from April at Good Books & Good Wine. She even got it autographed for me at BEA :D Thank you x infinity April and thank you for signing it Mitali!
Ways to Help: Text Burma to 20222 and you've donated $5. It's that simple. If you have more money to spare, $50 can help 5 people. You know what just visit the website Mitali created to go with the book, Bamboopeople.org The website is fantastic, it includes ways you can help, discussion guides and more information about the Burmese and Karenni people. Please donate if you can, I don't have $50 to spare but I did text Burma. Let me know if you donated too :)
PS I wanted to share this line because I thought it was adorable "The familiar dimple in Mother's left cheek deepens. Father used to say that he tumbled into it when he first saw her and never climbed back out." (pg.8) All together now, one, two, three! "Awwwww"